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By Joseph Akwiri

MOMBASA Kenya (Reuters) - East African countries need to work together on tightening porous borders to help halt the movement of militants, drug traffickers and other criminals, the region's senior intelligence officers were told on Monday.

Several east African nations have been battling a rise in attacks often linked to the Somali Islamist group al Shabaab, which has promised to target African nations - mostly from the region - that have sent peacekeeping troops to Somalia.

The week-long meeting of officers from 13 regional countries opened on Monday in Mombasa, the Kenyan port city that has been a regular target for attacks by militants.

“Our borders have been an easy target for drug traffickers and terrorists who have been able to compromise various sectors within our region,” Grace Kahindi, Kenya’s deputy inspector general of police, told the gathering.

“Updating and sharing of our national and international data bases is necessary for screening of criminal elements,” she said, calling for improved border surveillance measures.

She said poachers, drug traffickers and human traffickers were also taking advantage of weak controls.

Kenya has been hard hit by militant attacks since gunmen linked to the al Shabaab group launched a raid on a shopping mall in Nairobi last year, leaving at least 67 people dead. The vital tourist trade has been hit hard by the attacks.

Ethiopia, which also has a long border with Somalia, has also been struck by bombings it has blamed on people aligned to al Shabaab, while Tanzania has blamed Islamists for acid and other assaults on Christian clerics and tourists.

Francis Rwego, head of Interpol regional bureau for east Africa, said the region needed to make sure it had a legal framework for cooperation and also needed to keep ahead of criminals using technology to carry out their activities.

“Criminals are getting well connected through modern technology and are becoming more sophisticated in their operations,” he said.

(Reporting by Joseph Akwiri; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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